The SSME when developed in the 1970's was a technological leap in space launch propulsion system design. The engine has safely supported the space shuttle for the last two decades and will be required for at least another decade to support human space flight to the international space station. This paper discusses the continued improvements and maturing of the system to its current state and future considerations for its critical role in the nations space program. Discussed are the initiatives of the late 1980's, which lead to three major upgrades through the 1990's. The current capabilities of the propulsion system are defined in the areas of highest programmatic importance: ascent risk, in-flight abort thrust, reusability, and operability. Future initiatives for improved shuttle safety, the paramount priority of the Space Shuttle program are discussed.